We are at a crossroads. Many of the narratives and ideals being pushed in the secular world are seeping into school systems, and even Catholic institutions are being affected. A nun who teaches at a local Catholic school had expressed her fear that the educational system will push for a curriculum that goes against our Catholic beliefs and may cause a shut down of Catholic schools. Just this month the National Catholic Register reported students walked out of an assembly on a prolife talk at a Catholic school, citing that students were claiming to be prochoice. In the same week, Loyola Marymount, a Catholic Jesuit university, approved an on-campus fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, claiming it’s because they do more things than abortions. Both schools being in California, the liberal, left-wing type of attitude and culture of the state may be a huge factor in the mindsets of the students. But there is more to it that I’m realizing. When what is being taught in school is not being reinforced or practiced at home, it will not stick.
A study published in 2018 found that the disaffiliation for those born into the Catholic faith begins at a median age of 13 years old. Various reasons were cited for the reason, but there is one thing they all have seemed to have in common: the why behind the "rules." Whether they have been immersed in a secular culture in which faith is an option and societal norms oppose Church teaching, a traumatic event that causes them to question its importance or the existence of God, or the inability to get a satisfactory answer to their questions, young people are looking for the reasoning behind what is being taught. It is no longer enough to just give a set of rules to follow. It must be done in way that is meaningful and loving. But a good example that is set by a child's first teachers, the parents, is one very important tool to ensure that they see the true value in the Church's teachings.
I am a product of Catholic school education, having been taught in a Catholic school for 12 years. Growing up it was something I had taken for granted. It was not my experiences in school that made me curious about my faith, but the spiritual experiences I had outside of it.
My grandfather was what my aunt called “very Catholic”. Before his passing this year, he had told me that he was not actually born into the faith. He was a young boy raised in another Christian denomination in the Philippines that was similar to Catholicism in some practice but not all. But a local priest was giving Bible study lessons after school and he began to attend. Before the age of 10, he chose to convert and raised our family to be Catholic alongside my grandmother. We prayed at family gatherings, waiting for everyone (all 60 relatives to arrive) and gather to bless the food before we dug into our feast. My parents took my sister and me to Church on Sundays, the same Church where I received all of my Sacraments, and eventually took my children to receive their Sacraments. Being Catholic was so engrained in me that when I had not practiced my faith for some time, I began to miss it on my own, finding my way back into my parish that had been home since I was baptized at only a few weeks old.
Eventually that longing turned into a desire, turned into a passion for my faith until I hit the ground running and am now in this ministry that I love and am helping to grow. Having my own children taught me how much we need to lead by example at home. My son coming home and reminding me of the 10 Commandments when I accidentally say “Oh my God!” as a reaction or watch violent films reminds me how much they are watching in our actions. When we go to Church, my kids follow what I do, not what everyone else is doing. When I kneel, they kneel, even though the rest of the assembly is standing after Communion (the practice they implemented at my Parish).
These are small examples of a larger picture. Our children learn the values of being Catholic from us, not by what we tell them but by how we show them. The issues of social justice being presented today will be a source of contention, and perhaps for a very long time. There is the possibility of it worsening before it gets better, if it will ever get better. However, the intrinsic values of a person that is gained in the home can greatly influence their beliefs. If only we could show how these Catholic values are not just as a set of archaic and outdated rules and regulations, but actually continuously protect the dignity of our humanity. No, not every child will follow.
We all have free will, and each person is influenced by different factors. But unless we begin at home with the family, our children may never learn these values anywhere else. Teaching them from an early age, praying with them, reading with them, and most importantly talking to them in a loving way that helps them to understand each person's worth and dignity may yet help them to see where the Church teachings are actually to protect that dignity from conception to natural death, and to value themselves as a gift from God.